This is Part 2 of Rizal’s Legacy for the 21st Century: Progressive Education, Social Entrepreneurship and Community Development in Dapitan, first published at Social Science Diliman (SSD) Volume 7, No. 2, December 2011 issue. // Ed.
The Spanish colonial state had presumed that in exiling Rizal to Dapitan they were punishing and isolating a recalcitrant subversive. Because he was a European-educated polymath, and, at 31 years of age, already an accomplished man of science and letters and adored by his compatriots, he was considered a dangerous and formidable enemy of the state and the church. But the wily Jesuits, who were entrusted with the spiritual care of Mindanao, took on the challenge to win him back to the fold. Rizal’s former mentors had hoped that, through their influence, he would revert to being the devoted Atenean of his teenage years.
But rather than returning to the fold like the prodigal son, Rizal ended up transforming his adopted town towards his radical vision of human development and social justice and thus resolving the urgent question of how Filipinos should live and relate to each other, and what sort of nation we should aspire to be.
Rizal had agonized over this question in the Noli-Fili, and the answer he came up with was: cast away greed and selfishness, “unite with the people,” “sow an idea,” and “aspire to be a nation.” All very well, but these were motherhood statements that did not address the pressing question: What is to be done? When the disconsolate Simoun pressed Fr. Florentino for an answer, all that the good priest could say was a disappointing, “Suffer and wait.” It seemed that Rizal had not yet figured out the answer in the Fili.
Two years after writing El Filibusterismo, Rizal was closer to the answer. The way forward was to form the La Liga Filipina, a mass-based organization that would pursue a five-point program of social transformation, namely: 1) unite the whole archipelago into one compact, vigorous, and homogenous body; 2) mutual protection in every case of trouble and need, 3) defense against every violence and injustice; 4) development of education, agriculture, and commerce; 5) study and implementation of reforms.
Post-colonial Filipinos (unlike the un-Americanized Katipunan and revolutionary ilustrados) have misconstrued the fifth aim of the Liga— “Estudio y aplicaciòn de reformas” — to mean the study and application of reformist measures within the framework of the colonial system. This is contrary to what was meant by Rizal, who regarded such measures as merely “palliative”:
We said, and once more we repeat, and will ever assert, that reforms which have a palliative character are not only ineffectual but even prejudicial, when the government is confronted with evils that must be cured radically (1912).
The term reformas in the context of the Liga referred to the radical changes that will redound to the benefit of the people and lead to the development of the country independent of Spain.
The Spanish regime correctly saw Rizal’s project as a movement towards an independent nation and, thus, promptly arrested and exiled him to Dapitan in 1892. This event proved to be a blessing in disguise for it was in Dapitan that Rizal finally realized and put into practice the solution to the problem posed by Simoun in the Fili.
Rizal had declared explicitly in 1888 that “our sacred mission” is “the formation of the Filipino nation.” Rizal’s July 27, 1888 letter to Mariano Ponce reads in part:
If you write to Plaridel [del Pilar's nom de plume], please tell him that I rejoice with our country and all our good countrymen that we are united and solid so that we can help one another… On the day when all Filipinos should think like him and like us, on that day we shall have fulfilled our sacred mission which is the formation of the Filipino nation (italics mine; in Rizal, 1963, p.187).
He had hoped that the Liga would be the means — the social movement — towards this end. But where to begin, and how? In Dapitan, Rizal realized that the best way, if not the only way, to proceed is by acting locally — working with the people of a particular place, using local resources and responding to local needs. [ref 4]
Rizal’s four years in Dapitan have not been fully explored for the light they can shed on contemporary issues in community development and education. So far, I’ve not come across or heard of a coffee table book, let alone a dissertation on Rizal’s Dapitan years. His poems during this period have not been critically studied. More seriously, the significance of the school he founded in Talisay has not merited scholarly commentary. This is puzzling, for the pedagogical innovations he practiced in Talisay anticipate the anti-bureaucratic and democratic principles of what is now known as “progressive education” or the “alternative school movement” which historians have divided into the Progressive Movement (1890-1940) and the Free School Movement (1960-1975) (see Emery, 2000; Gorham, 2005).
Indeed, Rizal’s Talisay school predates the experimental school projects of Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan ashram [ca. 1901], Marietta Johnson’s School of Organic Education in Fairhope, Alabama (1907), Arthur Morgan’s Moraine Park School in Dayton, Ohio (1917), A.S.Neill’s Summerhill in Suffolk, England [ca. 1921], Bertrand and Dora Russell’s Beacon Hill School in Sussex, England [ca. 1927]. What these schools have in common is the idea that education should not be confined within the walls of a classroom, that children learn best by doing and should be encouraged in their innate desire to discover and explore their surroundings, that the teacher is most effective when he is a co-learner with his wards and serves as their role model in the joys and excitement of learning (see Kohn, 2008). As Pedagogy of the Oppressed author Paolo Freire puts it,
“Education must begin with the solution of the student-teacher contradiction by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously students and teachers” (Freire, 1982, p.59).
But more than this, the progressive school movement deconstructed the taken-for-granted idea that the school is an enclave where the student learns first and then later, after graduation, gets a job and, hopefully, becomes a productive member of the community. Against this notion, it advocated and practiced the principle that the school is an integral part of community life—that education is most fruitful when students are learning and working and promoting the well-being of the community all at the same time. Ivan Illich, a leading light in the free school movement, has advocated the creation of “educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing and caring”.5 Rizal’s school in Talisay may be viewed as one such “educational web.”
The philosophy of progressive education flows from the wellspring of the Enlightenment—in particular from Rousseau’s Emile, which Rizal had avidly read. Emile, nominally a novel but actually Rousseau’s treatise on education, is addressed to mothers—advising them on how best to nurture their children to grow to their fullest potential and learn to become self-realizing individuals. Emile remains as fresh today as when it was published in 1762. Consider this gem of an advice to prospective mentors:
Put questions within (the child’s) reach and let him solve them himself. Let him know nothing because you have told him, but because he has learned it for himself (Emile, paragraph 564). [ref 6]
Most of the fundamental prescriptions — from Rousseau to Ivan Illich—are exactly what Rizal’s students lived by in his Talisay school. It was a revolutionary educational program way ahead of its time in Catholic Church-dominated Philippines, if not the whole colonized world of the nineteenth century.
Those fruitful four years in Dapitan have become Rizal’s most unappreciated legacy, yet they are precisely what make Rizal singularly relevant to the 21st century.
NEXT: TALISAY, THE FIRST PROGRESSIVE SCHOOL IN ASIA